This week, a few of the fabulous things we’ve been finding recently.
Ceramic artefacts are some of the most common finds recovered from 19th century Christchurch archaeological sites. Teacups, saucers, plates, dishes, bottles, jars, jugs, chamber pots, wash basins…heaps of objects related to food and drink preparation, consumption and storage as well as hygiene or personal grooming habits. However, today, we’re not talking about forms and functions. We’ll go further…travelling through transfer printed decorations inspired by Neoclassical and Romantic designs.
Once upon a time, until the invention of transfer printing, the coloured decorations on ceramics were applied by hand. The technique of transfer printing, which originated in England in the mid-18th century, allowed potters, for the first time, to mass-produce identical detailed images on ceramic vessels. Blue and white designs dominated the wide world of transferwares, although black, brown, green, grey, purple and red colours were also used in the second half of the 19th century as we’ll see.
Potteries offered a variety of patterns that reflected social and decorative trends of the time. It was well-known by everybody that the finest ceramic was imported from China. It is not a surprise, then, that Chinese designs were copied or adapted and used as inspiration. In fact, patterns like Asiatic Pheasants and Willow became very popular and they are found on Christchurch sites quite often.
However, the search for more interesting and original decorations began quickly. European scenes based on neoclassical and romantic themes became inspiration for decorative designs in the mid-19th century and were sold as an exotic counterpoint to the similarly popular scenes of British landscape and architecture.
By the late 18th and early 19th centuries neoclassicism had infiltrated the arts and historical tradition. Ancient Greece and Rome were the inspiration. Transfer prints and stylistic trends were influenced by archaeological discoveries at ancient cities such as Pompeii, Herculaneum or Athens. Designs were dominated by horizontal and vertical lines and symmetrical proportions reflected the virtues of antiquity, like harmony, clarity and universality. Ceramic patterns displayed temples, columns, urns, sculptures, draped figures, acanthus leaves and Greek or Roman ruins in an effort to emulate these glorious past civilizations. Neoclassical patterns are relatively common finds on archaeological sites in Christchurch, some more frequently than others.
To be honest, it was difficult to choose just a few patterns to show you today. But, finally, here we are with a selection of some of my favourite neoclassical inspired patterns uncovered on Christchurch sites!
From the late 18th to the mid-19th centuries romanticism arose in Europe as a reaction to modernity, increasing industrialisation and rationality in general, and as a rejection of the neoclassical virtues of order, calm and harmony in particular. This artistic, cultural and intellectual movement played on the emotions, individualism and the glorification of the past and nature. Given the interest in nature, these designs often contained landscape scenes. Romantic imagery is easily identifiable on transferwares because it always follows this formula: water source as a central feature (river, lake), stylised buildings in the distance and small human figures and/or animals to provide sense of scale. Nature is also present through trees, mountains and valleys.
A wide variety of romantic patterns are commonly found on Christchurch sites, but again (sorry for my obsession today!), I chose those inspired by classical themes, which completed the romantic formula that we know with classical buildings, fountains, urns or pillared balconies. Some of these patterns, as you’ll see, were named after historical places or influential figures in the past. Designs were sometimes associated with the name or place, but were sometimes not…
As I mentioned, pattern names occasionally don’t match with the subject portrayed and for me, Sappho is a perfect example. I chose it because of who it refers to…
Given the topic for the blog today and taking advantage of that, I would like to show you other Romantic patterns based on real or imaginary European themes, referring to Spain and its medieval past. Yes! Here in Christchurch we have found these beautiful vessels…
Sometimes, we find ourselves unable to trace the name of a specific design, although many of the elements may be known and/or resemble other ceramics decorations. For example, although it was impossible to figure out the name of this ceramic pattern, I can’t resist the temptation to suggest an idea…
While Romantic transfer prints based on classical inspirations are relatively popular on 19th century Christchurch sites, those inspired by the Middle Age in Spain are uncommon finds so far. It is likely that Spain was more exotic and unusual for the New Zealand consumers, rather than Greek and Rome revivals.
The presence of these fashionable items within the home, displaying exotic scenes of faraway places, conveyed messages and knowledge of culture and history. Certainly, potters made wares decorated with certain patterns to supply the consumer’s demand. But beyond that, ceramics were a vehicle by which the myths and ideas from these places could travel across the world wherever the vessels were sold. These neoclassic and romantic transfer prints could make people believe that they were intrepid explorers travelling to ancient Europe, through their vessels. The scenes on their plates would become their image of Greece or Rome and Spain, whether or not it was realistic. The symbolic power of transfer prints was also important in the formation of new identities and the emergence of new national ideologies throughout the 19th century, as we discussed in a recent post talking about commemorative designs.
Neoclassical and romantic decorative styles, which inspired both my post today and ceramic makers during the 19th century, had decreased in popularity by the late Victorian era, while the standard Willow and Asiatic Pheasants remained in production for some time. After the decline of neoclassical and romantic designs, patterns with repeating and floral borders became more popular. However, that’s a story for another day!
By Maria Lillo Bernabeu
Brooks, A., 2005. An Archaeological Guide to British Ceramics in Australia 1788-1901. The Australasian Society for Historical Archaeology & La Trobe University, Australia.
Coysh, A. W. and Henrywood, R. K., 1982. The Dictionary of Blue and White Printed Pottery 1780‐1880, Volume I. Antique Collectors’ Club, Suffolk.
Encyclopedia Britannica, 2017. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/ [Accessed 23 June 2017]
Lucas, G., 2003. Literature and Transfer-Printed Pottery in the Early Nineteenth Century. International Journal of Historical Archaeology, 7 (2): 127-143.
Samford, Patricia M., 1997. Response to a market: Dating English underglaze transfer‐printed wares. Historical Archaeology 31 (2): 1‐30.
Transferware Collector’s Club, 2005-2017. [online] Available at: http://www.transcollectorsclub.org/ [Accessed 23 June 2017].
Today’s my last day at Underground Overground Archaeology, the company I founded in 2006. This isn’t something I ever thought would happen, but then, when I look back on how my archaeological career has played out so far, there’s not much in it that I’d planned… I went to Otago to study archaeology, but didn’t really know what I wanted to do beyond be an archaeologist. Part way through my degree I developed a fascination for the Middle East and the origins of agriculture, but that disappeared after I went on my first excavation in New Zealand (possibly helped along by the discovery that I needed to have a certain level of competency in an ancient language to study the origins of agriculture). I ended up as a consultant because there wasn’t anyone else doing that in Christchurch when I finished my Masters degree (and that’s where I happened to be at the time). And then there were the earthquakes. And more archaeology than I could ever have imagined, including some incredible sites, loads and loads of data, discovering buildings archaeology, a huge collection of artefacts and the most amazing possibilities for research. Which has brought me to my last day here.
It’s a day I’m facing with a mixture of excitement, trepidation and sadness. Excitement because of what I’m going to do next (more on that below) and, let’s face it, because I’m going to get more sleep (yay!) and not be engrossed in the minutiae (and stress) of running a business, when I’d rather be doing research. Trepidation because I have no idea how this is going to play out. And sadness because I’m leaving behind something I created and because I’m leaving behind my wonderful team. But, I’m happy that Underground Overground Archaeology is going to continue on without me and I’m confident I’m leaving it in good hands.
I’m going to miss my team – they’re what’s made Underground Overground Archaeology so great and they’ve been such a pleasure to work with. They’ve made me laugh every day, they’ve taught me so much, they’ve worked so hard and they’ve done some incredible archaeology – and written some awesome blog posts! They’re awesome people. Without them, Underground Overground Archaeology would never have succeeded or become what it is today.
My team (past and present) are not the only awesome people I’ve met and worked with over the years – there have been some fantastic clients, too. And then there’s you, the readers of this blog. What an amazing thing this has been. I can still remember pushing ‘play’ on that first blog post four – four! – years ago and just how nervous I was about it. I had no idea it would turn out be so successful, so rewarding or so fun. I’ve loved being able to share our archaeological discoveries with you, and to be able to show just how awesome Ōtautahi/Christchurch’s history and archaeology is. And I’ve loved that we’ve had a range of contributors over the years and the variety they’ve brought to it, and the responses the different posts have elicited from readers.
The other thing I wanted to say is what a privilege it’s been to do archaeology in Christchurch for so long, and to learn so much about the city, its development, its stories and the people who built this place. It’s a rich and varied history, made all the more so by the archaeological work in the city and the stories uncovered and documented during this – and then shared here. And the stories we’ve shared are only a fraction of what we’ve found so far. You should see the list of potential blog posts… And no doubt you’ll see some of those stories in the future. I’m looking forward to reading them.
So, those new ventures. All things going well, I’ll be embarking on my PhD, looking at the development of Christchurch’s domestic architecture in the 19th century, particularly in relation to identity, capitalism, colonialism and all those good things. But as well as that, because I’m yet to learn the lesson of not taking too much on (which you’d think the last five or six years would have taught me), I’m going to be trying to find a permanent home for the artefacts recovered as a result of the earthquake archaeology and building a system to hold all the data we’ve recovered and make it widely available. Because what we have here is too important not to save and preserve for the future and because Ōtautahi/Christchurch is incredibly lucky to have this rich resource of data and fascinating stories about its past and the people who made this place and what it is today. Soon you’ll be able to follow the journey at christchurcharchaeology.org (under development).
It’s been an incredible journey so far, this archaeology lark, and I’m really looking forward to continuing it in other ways and other forums. When I decided (aged 13) that this is what I wanted to do, I could never have imagined where it would take me or how it would play out. But I wouldn’t change a thing (although I’d love to have made a few less mistakes along the way…). I want to finish with a huge thank you to all those who’ve supported me along the way – my wonderful husband, family, friends, people I’ve employed, clients and readers. I couldn’t have done it without you.
The thing about being a buildings archaeologist is that even though some houses might look the same, the story of their occupants and occupation is always different. These stories of occupation are not always revealed in the archaeology of the buildings themselves, and are usually unearthed by our team of historians. When recording a house in the central city, we were confronted with a building that was most intriguing from a buildings archaeology perspective and had a sad story to match.
What made the house different was a ‘secret staircase’ located in the kitchen wall. From a buildings archaeology point of view this staircase didn’t appear to be an original feature, as its installation meant that one of the rooms in the house was unusable. Nor did it appear to have been used for some time, as the floorboards had been replaced where the stairs had once exited on the second floor, and the wall in the second-floor room where a doorway associated with the stairs had been located had been relined in the late 19th century. So why was it there?
Historian Chelsea Dickson was tasked with uncovering the story of the construction and occupation of the house. What she discovered, and how it meshed with the buildings archaeology, is related below in the ‘Sad Story of the Secret Staircase.’
When Henry Wilkinson, a cobbler and shoe merchant, purchased the relevant land parcel from Cyrus Davie in 1872 he was looking to build a home for himself and his family. His wife Anna Maria, two daughters Laura (the eldest) and Louisa, and his son James Walter were no doubt looking forward to the prospect of living in a brand new home close (but not too close) to town, with the river nearby and Linwood East School just a short walk up Barbadoes Street.
Building started soon after the section was purchased, and the house was complete and the family had moved in by December 1872. Unfortunately, the reason we know that Henry and his family were in occupation of the house at the time is because of the funeral notice for the middle child, Louisa, who passed away in the house aged 7½ (Press 2/12/1872). This tragedy was followed 18 days later when the youngest child, James Walter, passed away aged 4 years (Press 20/12/1872).
By September 1873 Anna Maria had also passed away, aged 37, leaving only Henry and Laura at the house.
In 1874 Henry advertised the four front rooms of the dwelling to let as “the front apartments, four rooms, for a respectable family, of three to four adults, next to Mrs Cyrus Davie’s” (Lyttelton Times 9/4/1874: 4). In order for the tenants to access the kitchen, which was located in the rear of the building, Henry had a staircase built into the wall between the kitchen and the parlour, which provided access from the front upstairs bedroom to the kitchen.
This is the ‘secret staircase’.
Presumably the secret staircase went out of use when Henry ceased letting out the front four rooms of his house, probably in 1875 when he married Annie Martha Griffiths, and hopefully lived happily ever after.
LINZ, 1850. Canterbury Land District Deeds index – A – Town sections and town reserves register.
LINZ, 1860. Canterbury Land District Deeds index – A/S 1 – Subdivisions of town reserves register. Archives New Zealand, Christchurch office.
Lyttelton Times. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed May 2017].
Press. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed May 2017].